Oracle Process Cloud Service: New Features

by Antonis Antoniou

January 2017

Introduction

Oracle Process Cloud Service (PCS) started a year ago as a lightweight process automation cloud tool that very quickly picked up momentum, adoption and technical capabilities. With Oracle adopting a cloud-first release approach, PCS quickly closed the gap with Oracle BPM Suite, with the majority of the on-premise features being ported to the cloud counterpart.

Released in September 2016, Oracle PCS  v.16.3.5 introduced some new features and enhancements to existing capabilities for all personas (Developer, Administrator, End User).

This article explores these new features and enhancements in detail and assumes prior basic knowledge of Oracle PCS.

New Forms Editor

The latest release introduced an entirely new web forms functionality called Web Forms, an alternative to its existing Frevvo web forms (renamed "Basic Forms"). The new Web Forms functionality is more business-user-friendly, promoting important development principles like multiple views, re-use, branding, list of values, and fetching data using REST connections.

The new Web Forms groups its functionality into three areas; the left area includes the Properties and Data sections, the right area includes the palettes (basic, advanced, forms and business types), and the main area is the drawing canvas.

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Using drag-and-drop, you can design your form using any components from all four palettes.

  • Basic Palette: Basic components like the input text, button, checklist, radio button, date, etc.,
  • Advanced Palette: Includes components like image, video, section, tab, table, etc.

     

  • Forms Palette: Re-use previously created forms
  • Business Type Palette: Create a user interface using a "data-first" approach (Oracle PCS will automatically create a form using the data definitions of the business type)

Enabling Auto Binding will automatically create linked data attributes for each component you drag on your canvas under the Data section. You can also follow a Manual Binding approach, in which you manually create attributes (either simple or based on a business object) and then bind controls to them.

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You can configure each component using the Properties section, which is split into two categories, General and Styling properties. Under the General properties you can configure the componentÕs name, label, binding, default value, whether it is an autocomplete field (works with List of Values), if the component is required or not, etc. Under the Styling properties you can configure things like component alignment, text alignment, label size and color, etc. Another really important feature under the Styling properties is the Control Class Name that enables you to customize the appearance of a component by referencing a CSS class (if you have uploaded a CSS Stylesheet to the form).

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You can configure the behavior of a control using Events, Actions and Conditions. These are basically If, Then, Else conditions on a control that lets you define dynamic behavior on your web forms.

Events are configured using the controlÕs Form properties.

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Depending on the control type, there are different event options. For example, an input text control supports 5 event types: On Load, On Change, On Focus, On Blur, and On Submit. A button supports only one, On Click.

On an event you can configure one or more actions and/or one or more conditions. An action enables you to trigger changes to a control (e.g., hide, show, enable, disable), to a control value, or to an attribute value (e.g., set a default value to a control).

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A condition, as the name implies, lets you define one or more "If, Then, Else" type of conditions to trigger an action on a control.

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Another really nice feature with Web Forms is that you can dynamically populate controls such as drop down lists, check lists, radio buttons, tables and repeatable sections using REST connectors.

Note that this capability requires prior configuration of a REST Service Connector (see my blog post Oracle Process Cloud Service Connectors (Part 2 of 2): REST Service Connector for detailed instructions on how to configure a REST Service Connector).

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A Presentation in Web Forms is another nice feature/concept in Oracle PCS that basically represents a single view of the web form. You can create multiple views of the same web form (data) as a way to render the same form in different devices or to present the same data to different users.

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You can customize the appearance of your Web Forms using CSS stylesheets. Upload your CSS stylesheet to your web form and use an in-place editor to preview the changes that will be applied by the uploaded CSS stylesheet.

Note: Styling applied to an individual control will override the styles applied to the control by the stylesheet.

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You can use the Web Form Preview button to preview your form as it would appear on various devices. Web Forms will automatically render and adjust your form depending on the device display size.

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Expanded QuickStart Apps

QuickStart Apps is not new. In fact, it was a feature in the very first release of Oracle PCS. ItÕs a very nice capability that allows developers to jump start their process development by adopting specific templates and customizing them to their needs.

What is really new with the latest release is the QuickStart Master, which allows you to convert an existing application to a template, which can then be converted to a QuickStart App, promoting your application to the gallery for other users to create applications based on it.

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The QuickStart Master uses a customization view that allows you to define some properties on your application, such as your application's name, description and image (icon). You can also configure which items users can personalize and which properties they can change when using your application template.

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Integration with Integration Cloud Services (ICS)

A new integration pattern introduced with the latest release enables PCS to exchange data with local and remote applications that are exposed as SOAP via Oracle ICS.

This new feature is available via the "Integrations" view and requires a prior connection configuration between PCS and ICS.

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You can use the Advanced tab of ICS Integration allows you to modify properties like the read time out, connection time out, and security options (to configure authentication to the ICS).

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The ICS Integration is available for use from any service task. Using the known Data Association feature, you can map a data object to either hold the information that you want to send to the ICS or hold the information sent back by the ICS.

Actionable Email Templates

The latest release of PCS enables you to configure and customize emails sent as notifications to human workflow task assignees (the default email notification is too basic, containing only a link to the Workspace app). You can create your own email templates that can include payload information, task information, links and comments.

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You can also create "actionable" emails by including links to perform an action on a task (for example, Approve or Reject); you do need to be very careful because any user with access to the email can perform the action.

You can create an email template either by uploading a .htm or .html file or by entering HTML markup in the email template editor. You can reference payload data into your email template using the mustache template -- e.g., {{firstname}}. Alternatively, you can use one of the many task-related attributes (such as title, creator, taskId, etc.), again using the mustache template.

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You can download an email template, copy an existing one and customize it to your needs, and preview your email template before releasing it for use. Please note that, in Preview Mode, actions and payload data are not shown (since that requires an active running instance).

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Integration with Oracle Business Intelligence Cloud Service

Oracle PCS integrates, natively, with another Oracle PaaS service, Oracle Business Intelligence Cloud Service (BICS), to archive business analytics from PCS to BICS and project those analytics on BI charts and graphs.

For this feature to work you need to have configured an integration between BICS and PCS, with the same user subscribed to both services.

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Under the hood, analytic data is archived by default in Oracle Storage Cloud Service, and saved in Oracle BICS. This archiving procedure can run on-demand or by schedule.

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The analytics data is saved in Oracle BICS tables and named based on a corresponding Data Object in Oracle PCS. Once an archive is complete, you can log into BICS and create your business reports and dashboards.

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New REST APIs

Because of the new Web Form functionality, the REST API for Oracle PCS has been updated with an additional endpoint, Get PCS Web Form Metadata, which features under the Manage Processes.

The new endpoint is really straightforward; it accepts a web form id as a URL path parameter to return a web formÕs metadata in the JSON format.

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Note: Oracle PCS REST API version 1.0 is deprecated. You should use the latest version (v3.0), as it provides richer and more extensive functionality (PCS REST API versions are not backwards compatible).

Open/Private Application Deployment

The new release of Oracle PCS brings finer control in the context of deployment with respect to permissions by introducing Open and Private deployments. In a nutshell, an Open server configuration allows developers and administrators to deploy applications, while a Private server configuration allows only administrators to deploy applications to the server. The default configuration is Private.

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Correlations Support

In Oracle Business Process Management Suite (BPMN), a correlation is used to associate a message with a conversation between different partners in a business process (other processes or services).

There are two types of correlations: automatic, based on WS-Addressing, and message-based, which uses payload information to uniquely identify and associate a message with a conversation (e.g., OrderId).

A message-based or custom correlation consists of a correlation key, a means to group a set of properties together, and correlation properties, which represent the attributes that will be used for the process or service association (see my blog post "Correlations in Oracle BPM 12c" for detailed instructions on how to create custom correlations).

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Event-Based Gateways

The latest release of Oracle PCS provides more flexibility to process branching with the addition of the event-based gateway.

An event-based gateway is an advanced type of gateway in BPMN that provides divergence in processes. Event-based gateways, as the name suggests, make use of events rather than data-specific conditions to define branching conditions and decisions (see my blog post "Oracle BPM 12c Gateways (Part 5 of 5): Event-based Gateway" for detailed instructions on how to use the event gateway).

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Enhancements to Embeddable Process UI Components

One of the most exiting features in Oracle PCS is the ability to integrate PCS functionality in external applications. Oracle PCS exposes various UI components as jQuery widgets that you can embed into your own applications.

In previous releases, these library resources were downloadable as a zip file from the Workspace Admin. The latest release has reorganized these resources, which are hosted directly at your PCS instance server (at host:port/bpm/).

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Some new embeddable components have been released, such as task details for displaying details of a selected task, attachments for displaying attachments or documents (assuming that Oracle Documents Cloud Service is configured), and commentÑfor displaying comments of a selected task.

The Start Form widget has been enhanced so that the start form can now display attachments and documents, again assuming that Oracle Documents Cloud Service is configured.

Oracle PCS tried to simplify the integration experience by providing guided sample code for configuring your external application, authenticating with PCS (using an OAuth token), embedding a Start Form, and starting a PCS application from your application, among other things.

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Enable/Disable Documents Cloud Service at Application Level

Oracle PCS promotes collaboration by supporting document sharing and conversations available via a separate Oracle PaaS offering, Oracle Documents Cloud Service (DCS). In previous releases, this capability was, once configured, available to all applications. Disabling this feature disabled it for all applications.

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The latest release lets developers enable or disable documents and conversations (Oracle DCS) on an application basis via the Information pane.

Note: Even if you disable DCS integration, attachments are still available to end-users.

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Enum Enhancements

The Data Association Editor has been enriched to provide greater flexibility in associating enumerations (restrictions) and primitive types (string, int, double, decimal).

The new Data Association Editor support bi-directional associations between enumerations and primitive types. You can assign a source that includes a limited set of values (enum) for a primitive type data object. Please note that the two types must be compatible; for example, you can't assign an integer enumeration to a string data object.

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Alternatively, you can assign a data object value to an enumeration object. When you do so, you should notice an Automatic Casting icon between source and destination as a warning that you might get runtime error.

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Custom Header Support for REST Calls

Oracle PCS now provides support for custom headers for REST service calls applicable to basic forms that fetch data by calling REST services. A logical sequence of steps must be followed to configure custom headers.

  1. The administrator must provide the header configurations, using the Configuration app before a developer can use it in a basic form in Composer.
  2. The administrator must create a new credential mapper and can define an authentication, which can be either Basic authentication or OAuth authentication.

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  3. The administrator can also create a custom header property by providing a header name, value and type (which can be either secret or visible).

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  4. The developer can then go to the basic form, click Manage Header Sets and select the header set created by the administrator to appear under Application Header Sets.

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Important: To attach the defined Header Set to your basic form, you must click the Edit button and select your form.

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Enhancements to Basic Forms

The basic forms have been enhanced with the addition of the following controls:

  • Message control that includes a rich text editor for static text on your form
  • Link control to add a URL link to your form
  • Button control to add a button to your form. Note that this control is used in combination with form rules and that the button control now works in repeating items.
  • Image control to add a JPG, GIF or PNG file to your form (file size should not exceed 5MB)
  • Trigger control to add a button to your form (again used in combination with form rules and using different rule identifiers)

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Business Objects Based on a JSON Schema

Another really nice new feature is the ability to create a business object from a JSON schema. This is really useful when creating REST integrations.

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The Import Business Object from JSON editor gives you the ability to either type in the JSON definition or to import the JSON file.

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Note: Oracle PCS does not support JSON natively, meaning that it will convert the JSON definition to an XML schema by generating a complex type and then creating a business object with the type set on the complex type.

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Business Analytics UI Changes

There have been some enhancements in the Business Analytics tab (available inside the Dashboards space). Administrators can use the Edit Query functionality to create a report by selecting the data source for the report and what to display on the X and Y axis, and can add an infinite number of filters using various system indicators such as Application Name, Application Version, Due Status, Fault Type, etc.

Analytics users can use the same tab to select and view reports.

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Workspace/Admin Enhancements

The September 2016 release introduced some new end-user features and enhancements into the Workspace application.

Just like its on-premise counterpart, Oracle PCS allows you to deploy multiple versions of an application. In previous releases, when trying to start (initiate) an application, you could see all available versions of all deployed applications. While this was good, there wasnÕt a way to just filter or see only the default versions. The new release now has a checkbox called Show Default Versions Only that, when selected, will filter out non-default versions of each deployed application.

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Furthermore, the task filtering experience has been improved to enable end users to easily filter on tasks using a variety of criteria, such as Task List filters (task priority, tasks assigned to you, tasks reviewed by you, etc.), Status filters (assigned, suspended, withdrawn, etc.), Assignee filters (assigned to you, to your group, etc.), and Due Date filters (all, today, tomorrow, etc.). You can save a filter for re-use, delete it, and minimize the entire search panel to give you more space on screen to work on tasks.

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Summary

Oracle and the Oracle BPM and PCS team have been consistent over the last year in their commitment to timely and frequent releases. We have experienced trimester releases (April 2016, July 2016, September 2016) with significant features and enhancements that make it clear that Oracle is putting full attention (and development throttle) on Oracle PCS.

PCS initially started as a tool for modeling and executing simple, straight-through processes; thatÕs not the case any more. I believe that Oracle PCS is scaling in balance with its on-premise alternative, Oracle BPM, and itÕs at the tipping point of leading the Oracle process space.

And for you case management addicts, watch out for the next couple of releases!

References

  • Oracle Cloud, "What's New for Oracle Process Cloud Service," E72231-03, September 2016.
  • Oracle Cloud, "Using Oracle Process Cloud Service 16.3.5," E68292-06, September 2016.

 

About the Author

Oracle ACE Director Antonis Antoniou is Technical Director and a member of the Global CTO Office at eProseed. His expertise includes Oracle Application Grid, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), Business Process Management (BPM), WebCenter Portal, WebCenter Content and Application Developement Framework (ADF). Antonis has extensive experience as a developer, coach, trainer and architect, and has served as project lead on multiple complex Oracle Fusion Middleware projects across Europe and the Middle East, spanning various industries. Antonis is an avid technology evangelist and a regular speaker at various Oracle conferences and events.


This article has been reviewed by the relevant Oracle product team and found to be in compliance with standards and practices for the use of Oracle products.